Monday, March 19, 2012


New Plymoth is having a party.  WOMAD is the name.

I can't believe what just happened.
On my first day of arriving I was working in the zoo, camping at the racetrack & had already seen bands from Ivory Coast, Burundi, Jamaica, Senegal, Japan, France & Ireland.  & I showed up late!

Volunteering at WOMAD (World of Music Arts & Dance).  Holy shit.  The best festival I have been to in sheer quality of music.  Every band you got a taste of would 90% of the time blow your mind!  Incredible!  Fantastic!

Going into it I knew 2 bands on the roster & they were at their very best!

Dobet Gnahore played the 2007 Winnipeg Folk Festival.  Just like then, she ripped open the friday night slot with her furious dancing that made everyone jump in!  She is so beautiful, she is always front page material.

Last summer I listened to alot of weird gypsy music & fell in love with the song Balkan Reggae by Mahala Rai Banda (Romania).  Oh. My. God.  They were unreal.  You could tell they didn't speak much english, but on every song they lit up!  You can't have a 10-piece horn section & not know what you're doing.

In fact, there was alot of that.  The average band size was probably about 11.  Batacuda Sound Machine (NZ) had about 10, Pascal (Japan) had 16, Babba Maal (Senegal), Bombay Royale (India) & Sharon Shannon (Ireland) each had 11 or 12.  There not many regular sized bands at all & only a handful of solo acts.  In fact, a friend of mine saw one of the solo loop pedal performers (Adam Page) busking in Queenstown a couple months ago.  & an Israeli friend knew the guys in Batacuda, cause he saw them play in Whakatane on the west coast, & was the only one there!  Small world NZ.

The music was phenomenal!  & really surprising.  There was a loop pedal violinist (Chapelier Fou) who was very intense & groovy for what it was, & I was amazed at how mesmorizing the Brazilian dualling accordions were (Toninho Ferragutti & Bebe Kramer) & how magical the Mongolian throat singers were (Anda Union).  There was a super interesting band from Wellington that had a stage filled with old Indonesian chimes, 2 DJ's at the back & a breathy blonde singer wearing angels wings.  Wild sounding, completely surreal.  Electronic, combined with these traditional chords....Wow. (Minuit vs Gamelan Taniwha Jaya)

It was grand that in the 3 days, most bands played at least twice or thrice.  Probably cause it's too expensive to fly out more musicians, but it was so cool to really get a chance to see everything & to see the bands you loved again!  (When I say Mahala you say Rai Banda!)

It was very diverse in every sense.  They had a segment called Taste the World, where artists would prepare a dish from their country & serve samples to the crowd.  Super cool!  The Mongolian liquor was potent, & the Fijian curry was delish!  They had dance workshops, movies, comedy, an artisans village, food stalls from every corner of the world, a Maori center with massage & tattooing!  I've never seen tattooing before at a festival!!!  In the back there was a even quiet  retreat with life coaches & forms of alternative therapy & treatment.  I didn't get to check it out cause I was dancing with a fury!

The venue was spectacular.  Papakura Park is really lovely with hills filling out the place, a big bowl with a lake surrounding the mainstage, alcoves & gullys perfect for other stages.  The festivcal site took up only a small part of the Park, but the trails went on forever!

I worked in Kidzone, which was literally taking place at the zoo.  It was a small zoo.  They had most of the animals moved out to a farm somewhere - no lions or tiger at this one, they were mostly farm animals anyway.  Kept the social animals behind, the otters & the monkeys.  At Kidzone there were bouncy castles, performers, stilt workshops, face painting, crafts, & playgrounds!  I was helping the kids make costumes for the parade!  So every day I got covered in paint & glitter!  No, I didn't try to eat the glue this time around!  We made heaps of bug wings & antennae for all the little cretins.  It's amazing what you can do with some bamboo & zip ties.  There were professionally made big costumes for some of the big kids & I lost rock paper scissors with a girl to be the mighty butterfly.  When the parade happened I was relishing in second place - the wings were so big, tall & heavy, & her antennae hat kept slipping over her eyes so she couldn't see anything!

Parade costumes

Mrs Butterfly!

The weather was magical.  Beautiful & sunny all weekend from 2pm Friday till Monday morning.  Monday we had to pick up little bits of glitter out of the grass all day, & it was pleasantly overcast.  I'm sure there are probably glitters from last year or the year before in the exotic birds' nests.  As soon as we were done getting frustrated hand picking it & just vaccuumed it all instead, the wind started giving a bit of a push.  Within hours there was a windstorm that lasted 3 days!  If there had been even a whisper of wind during the parade, it would have been a disaster.  The butterfly's wings were 10ft high!  She would have been launched!

We camped in the centre circle of a racetrack.  The horses race sporadically from 4:30am till 7pm.  In the morning everyone would ask "Did you hear the horses last night?"  I sleep through everything, so no.  They were described as the beating of an infant's heartbeat - fast & jittery, but reassuring that it'll come back again.

The last night I got hot into jungle fever flurry of dancing for Staff Benda Belili from the DRC!  Didn't get it the first time around, but the 2nd time they got me pumping!  Each of them have a disability, but that hasn't stopped them yet!  One even hopped out of his wheelchair to join the crowd's dancing with a headstand!  WOW!

The information is dodgy about where to go, lots of people leading us astray.  The afterparty is the game.  I have a heated bet with Mrs Butterfly for drinks from whoever is last to arrive.  I got there in brilliant time & found the next trick to get free drinks.  Butterfly never even turned up cause they were turning volunteers away at the door!  It takes a great DJ to play for a room filled with musicians.  Salsa dancing latinos, Africans, Europeans, altogether breaking down the dance floor!

At the very end tip of the night, in a flurry I met this wiry American journalist, & his is another story in itself...

The afterparty was the only real party of the festival.  It was mostly families attending, so as soon as the main stage was up, the campground was extinguished.  That's the way to be.  For the love of the music!

, inspired!

Dobet Gnahore (Ivory Coast)

The Yoots (NZ)

Narasiratu (Soloman Islands)

The Bombay Royale (India)

Minuit vs Gamelan Taniwha Jaya (NZ)

Staff Benda Belili (DRC)

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